Posted by: Johnold Strey | April 28, 2011

Sermon for the Festival of the Resurrection of Our Lord (2011)

THE MIRACLES OF EASTER

  1. A real resurrection
  2. A restored relationship

 Text: John 20:15-17

Introduction

What is your favorite miracle account from Jesus’ ministry?  Of all the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles, which one tops your list of personal favorites?  Changing water into wine?  Casting demons out of a possessed man into a herd of pigs?  Feeding the five thousand?  If you ask me, I’d have to say that my favorite miracles of Jesus would be the times he raised someone who had died back to life.  How can you not feel terrible sadness for the people who had lost loved ones: the synagogue ruler whose pre-teen daughter died, or the widow who was on the way to bury her son, or Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus?  And how can you not feel the tear-filled joy when the pre-teen daughter, the widow’s son, and the brother of Mary and Martha were miraculously brought back from death to life?

On this Easter Day, we celebrate the mother of all miracles and the resurrection of all resurrections.  Throughout the recently completed season of Lent, we held a special series of weeknight services and heard a series of sermons that focused on the miracles of Lent—really, the miracles that took place in connection with Jesus’ death and Good Friday.  But even those miracles pale in comparison to the miracles that took place on the first Easter morning.  On this Easter morning, we want to consider the miracles that occurred on the first Easter morning: specifically, the miracles of a real resurrection, and of a restored relationship.

I.

A member of this congregation gave me a copy of a recent newspaper article about the “Thomas Jefferson Bible.”  Thomas Jefferson was an influential founding father of our nation, but he was also a rationalist when it came to the Bible.  He rejected anything that was remotely miraculous.  Jefferson produced his own “cut and paste” Bible, which contains all of the moral teachings of Jesus, but none of the miracles.  His record of Jesus life ends with this statement: “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the [tomb], and departed.”  Sadly, there is no resurrection in Jefferson’s Bible.

It is sad when sinful human beings allow rationalism to take over the simple meaning of Scripture, assuming that God has no ability to bring about the miraculous.  It was just as sad when forgetful unbelief clouded the minds of Jesus’ followers on Easter morning, including the women who came to the tomb at dawn, who thought that they were on a journey to finish Jesus’ burial.  All the while they had forgotten the multiple times Jesus predicted his own resurrection. 

Mary Magdalene, one of the faithful female followers of Jesus, was one of those unbelief-stricken disciples on the first Easter.  Two early morning trips to the empty tomb convinced her that either a mischievous body snatcher or a misguided do-gooder had removed Jesus’ body from its resting place.  Not even the angels could snap her out of her forgetful unbelief.  The initial appearance of Jesus didn’t snap her out of her forgetful unbelief either.  “‘Woman,’ [Jesus] said, ‘why are you crying?  Who is it you are looking for?’  Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’  Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher).”  Perhaps because of her tears, or perhaps because of some miraculous way Jesus disguised himself, Mary did not recognize the risen Lord before her until he called her by name.

Have you heard the joke about how proper grammar saves lives?  Imagine that you have invited your grandmother over for Easter brunch this afternoon.  When it comes time for the meal, you say, “Let’s eat, Grandma!”  That’s a lot different than if you had said, “Let’s eat grandma.”  The first sentence invites grandma to the dinner table.  The second sentence says that grandma is on the dinner table.  That’s a humorous way to demonstrate how grammar is very important when you interpret someone else’s words.

Grammar is much more important when you’re working with Scripture.  Verse 17 of our reading offers an example.  When Mary realized that Jesus stood before her, she clasped him with joy.  And then Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father.”  If we didn’t know any better, it almost sounds as if Jesus is forbidding Mary from touching him at all.  But there is something built into the grammar of Jesus’ words that does not come through naturally in English translations.  Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t touch me.”  He literally said, “Don’t keep holding on to me.”  Mary clasped him alright, and Jesus didn’t prevent her from doing that any more than Jesus prevented doubting Thomas from touching Jesus’ wounded hands and side one week after his resurrection.  There was nothing fake, imagined, “spiritual,” or metaphysical about the risen Jesus.  Mary now knew from experience that Jesus’ resurrection was a real, actual, factual, physical resurrection.

I doubt that we have a church full of resurrection skeptics this morning.  The fact that you came here at all this morning suggests that most if not all of you recognize that the resurrection of Jesus was real.  To be sure, we could all increase our ability to defend Jesus’ resurrection, but the people who come to church on Easter Sunday are generally people who believe in the factual nature of Jesus’ resurrection.

And yet, we can live our lives as if we don’t believe in the resurrection, even though we say that we do.  What do I mean?  If the resurrection is real, then you’d think we would trust more in the words of Jesus who proved he was God by his resurrection.  We wouldn’t doubt his Word’s promises to provide, or his promises to make difficult circumstances work out for our good.  If the resurrection is real, then you’d think we would take Jesus’ warnings seriously to stay rooted in his Word and not to neglect our faith’s nourishment by staying away from his house.  If the resurrection is real, then you’d think we would listen to the Bible verses that encourage us to live new lives in light of Jesus’ resurrection.  We wouldn’t let filthy words slip from our lips and vengeful thoughts enter our minds.

We can look at the first disciples of Jesus, wondering how they could have forgotten Jesus’ promises and missed the resurrection, but one look at our lives suggests that we would have missed it too because so often we live like we’ve never heard his Word or never knew about his resurrection.

II.

Words matter.  The other day I was at a store, and when it was my time to check out, the clerk, who was very friendly and upbeat, kept calling me, “Boss.”  What was his point?  I think he was trying to show respect for his customer.  When you call your customer, “Boss,” you’re saying that you are there to serve him: “You’re the ‘boss,’ so what can I do to serve you?”  It may be subtle, but that one word carried a message with it.

Words mattered when Jesus gave Mary Magdalene a message for his disciples.  “Go…to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  There is one word I want to focus on, and that word is “brothers.”  Jesus has used the term “brothers” before to talk about his followers in a general sense, but this is the first time he applies the term directly to his apostles—and it comes right after he has completed his work of salvation and risen from the dead.  Think about the significance of that term.  Those disciples were guilty of one sinful disappointment after another during the past three days—bragging and boasting among themselves, only to desert and ditch out on Jesus at his arrest.  And yet he calls them “brothers”—a term that suggests a restored, family-like relationship.  Notice that Jesus went on to say, “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  Jesus’ message to his apostles speaks to them as restored and reunited members of the family of God.  Christ’s death removed the barrier that separated them, and his resurrection proclaimed his victory over their sin—a victory that would reunite them not just at that moment but for all eternity.

You don’t have to look too far to find broken relationships in your life.  Friendships are broken by a breach of trust.  Families are broken by unfulfilled marriage promises and rivalries among siblings.  Churches are even broken by sinful and selfish power plays among members.  All of these examples, and many more we could add to this list, testify to the broken relationship that sin causes between us and others, and between us and God.

But the miracle of Jesus’ real resurrection ushers in another equally impressive Easter miracle: the miracle of a restored relationship with God.  For when Jesus defeated death, he also defeated the ultimate cause of death, and that is sin.  Today’s Second Lesson reminds us, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The real resurrection of Jesus means that we are really, truly restored to the status of his brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God the Father in heaven, and heirs of forgiveness and eternal life.

Think about that for just a moment!  How often haven’t we doubted God’s love, his Word, and his promises, and yet he still sent his Son in love and kept his promise to defeat sin and destroy death on our behalf.  How often haven’t we wandered from the Lord and from his house, and yet he does not give up chasing after us, for he longs to restore us back into his family with open arms.  How often haven’t we failed to live like true children of God, and yet God sent his one and only Son into our sinful world to purchase us back from the devil’s family by his death, and to bring us into his eternal family by leading us to believe in his resurrection.  As painful as the brokenness is that we often endure on this side of heaven, our broken world and its broken relationships cannot erase the Easter miracle of that beautiful, restored relationship God first gave us when his Holy Spirit planted faith in our hearts—faith that believes in the real resurrection of Jesus, and faith that receives a restored relationship with the Triune God.

Conclusion

In a book first published in 1992 called The Battle for the Resurrection, author Norman Giesler explains the importance of the real resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how Christ’s resurrection is under constant assault.  In the first chapter of the book, Giesler writes, “If Satan is not successful in casting doubt on God’s Word, he will find new ways to ‘spiritualize’ away its literal truth.  That is, if he cannot get people to doubt that the Bible is God’s Word, he will get them to question how it is to be interpreted.  Satan’s double-barreled attack is on the inspiration and interpretation of the Bible.”  Giesler goes on to observe, “The first strategy worked with the theological liberals.  The second strategy is aimed at evangelicals.”

Giesler is right.  The resurrection matters.  That’s why, as he points out, the devil and the sinful world around us will not let up on its assault against the resurrection.  Our entire faith hinges on the resurrection.  If Jesus’ resurrection is false, then don’t bother waking up for church on Sunday morning.  But if Jesus’ resurrection is real, you really have no choice but to come to grips with what Jesus says in his Word.  Always trust what the man who rose from the dead has to say!  But that is not a frightening prospect.  For the real resurrection of Jesus ushers in another miracle which contains the best news we could ever here—reconciliation with God, a renewed and restored family relationship that began at your baptism and will continue through all eternity in heaven because you confess that Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Amen.

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